Little-Leaf Linden – Tilia cordata

Little-Leaf Linden – Tilia cordata
"What's eating my linden?"

Some linden varieties are susceptible to near-fatal Japanese beetle infestation in northern Illinois.

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linden tree Japanese beetle damage
Skeletonized by Japanese beetle linden foliage
Little-leaf linden can grow to 70 feet, but normally tops out in the 40-50 foot range. Its oval to pyramidal smoothly symmetrical form gives this lovely tree an appeal in formalized architectural plantings, as a specimen tree, and as a hardy, pollution-tolerant shade or street tree. The flowers are highly fragrant and attractive to bees.  Grows well on deep, fertile, well-drained loam and clay soils with a soil pH – 5.5 to 7.5.

Along with numerous other plants, both little and big-leaf lindens are struggling to survive increasingly widespread and severe Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) infestations across the American Midwest. The beetles can skeletonize and defoliate an entire tree in just a few weeks. This poor linden at Oregon, Illinois, has ~75% of its foliage eaten during our horrendous drought of 2012 (ongoing as of January 2013..).  The beetles had also attacked big-leaf Linden (Tilia platyphyllos) nearby, although the loss of foliage on that species was much less severe. In this small town (pop. 3800) along the Rock River just 33 miles south of the Wisconsin border, there are numerous linden specimens suffering.

little-leaf linden Japanese beetle damage
July 2012 – This little-leaf linden has lost 75% of its foliage to an ongoing  beetle infestation
Not only lindens, mind you; two bare-root sugar maples I planted in my yard in the fall of 2011 were about 50% skeletonized – then had all their lower branches trimmed ignominiously by my resident crazy-assed squirrels. Why do squirrels do that, anyone? They killed a weeping willow I planted in same wise – I saw this crazy bastard squirrel capering like a cat with catnip, or a March hare, wildly biting those twigs and literally turning cartwheels simultaneously. What the hell is that all about?

Of course, most plants are more vulnerable to a host of maladies and enemies when already stressed by drought or heat, but I would definitely advise against planting one of these trees where Japanese beetles are numerous.

Update 2014 – The tree in question is healthy and the Japanese Beetles were practically all wiped out in the atrocious winter of 2013-14. I surmise tthe ground froze to a depth these non-native beetles were not prepared for. (I don't think the adults overwinter in any event.) Very little skeletonizing and loss of leaf mass this year. See what an old-fashioned winter can do? (December 27, 2014 it was 55 degrees yesterday..)

Little-Leaved Linden
The fragrant flowers of the Linden tree hang from the middle of leafy, ribbon-like green bracts in long-stalked clusters. The flowers are tiny, with 5 yellowish-white petals. During the last weeks of June and first weeks of July they exude a powerful, haunting scent that can be detected up to a mile away.

The flowers possess a nectar which attracts bees and produces a strong flavored honey. When this tree is in flower it will be full of bees, hence its common name "Bee Tree". During the three weeks that the Lindens bloom, bees forsake most other flowers. The honey that they make of Linden nectar is white in color, and highly regarded. The flowers when gathered and dried can be used to make tea. Linden flowers are used in the manufacture of perfumes.

When the flowers go to seed they form small nutlets that contain 1 or 2 seeds each, clustered beneath large leafy wing bracts which act as parachutes as they carry the seeds to the ground. The fruits are woody and about the size of peas. The leaves are heart-shaped, 2-3 inches long. Linden wood is soft and creamy, and it is much favored by woodcarvers because of its workability (it is said to "cut like cheese") and its even grain. In past centuries it was used to make ship's figureheads and cigar-store Indians. Today it is used for broom handles, beehive frames, piano sounding boards and certain parts of guitars. — USDA NRCS Plant Fact Sheet
healthy linden tree
Healthy little-leaf linden at Morton Arboretum
Some cultivated varieties of little-leaf Linden include:
Bicentennial Linden – Dense pyramidal and conical form.
Corinthian® Linden  ‘Corzam’ – Compact pyramidal form.
Greenspire Linden  – Commonly planted cultivar, straight trunk and pyramidal form, patented.
June Bride Linden  – Introduced by Manbeck Nurseries, Inc., New Knoxville, Ohio.
Morden Linden  – Released by Morden Research Station in Manitoba.
Norlinâ„¢ Linden ‘Ronald’ – Hybrid with rapid growth and larger leaves – Jeffries Nursery Ltd.
Rancho Linden  – Dense upright-oval selection.
Shamrockâ„¢ Linden (T. cordata ‘Baileyi’) – A stouter-branched and faster growing hybrid
1. Edward Gilman USDA Forest Service ST-637 "Tilia cordata Littleleaf Linden"

2. NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY, Field Guide to North American Trees

Tree Encyclopedia / North American Insects & Spiders is dedicated to providing scientific and educational resources for our users through use of large images and macro photographs of flora and fauna.

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Family Tiliaceae – Basswoods, Lindens
50 genera and 400 species; widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, with relatively few species in temperate regions. Especially abundant in Southeast Asia and Brazil.   The leaves of all the Tilias are heart-shaped and most are asymmetrical, and the tiny fruit, looking like peas, always hang attached to a ribbon-like, greenish bract.  Tree Encyclopedia | Tree Index | Tiliaceae Index